I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time this summer breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective for the 2021 season. It’s a good way for me to put a bow on the season that just finished while also getting a leg up on my early research for the 2022 season.
AFC South Reviews
1. Tennessee Titans
Record (ATS): 12-6 (10-8)
Season Win Total: 9 (over)
One-score Record: 6-2 (0-1 postseason)
Division Odds: -110
Playoff Odds: -160
Over/Under record: 8-10
PPG: 24.6 (15th)
PPG Allowed: 20.8 (t5th)
Point Differential: +65 (11th)
The Titans earned the AFC’s top seed and homefield advantage for the third time since they relocated to Tennessee in 1997, but they entered the postseason with the third-best odds (+850) to win the conference behind the Chiefs (+450) and Bills (+750). The market’s skepticism proved to be warranted when Ryan Tannehill threw an interception on their first play of the postseason, which was a precursor for the rest of their performance in a Divisional Round loss to the Bengals. The Titans eked out the one seed despite using an NFL-high 91 players this season and despite finishing with the AFC’s sixth-best point differential at +65. They experienced a one-win improvement from 2020 and they captured the AFC South title for the second straight year. Tennessee did it mostly without their most important player Derrick Henry, who still finished ninth in rushing yards (219/937/10 rushing) despite missing the final nine games of the regular season.
Mike Vrabel kept the ship afloat and he took home the Coach of the Year Award (+2900) for his efforts. Vrabel has finished with at least nine wins in each of his first four seasons as Tennessee’s head coach, and they’ve reached the playoffs in each of the last three years. He also had to combat some shaky off-season decisions from GM Jon Robinson, who swung for the fences twice only to strike out both times. He was ridiculed at the time for inking Bud Dupree to a five-year contract with $35 million guaranteed, and the move looks even worse after his three-sack campaign in 2021. Dupree was coming off a late-season ACL injury and he benefited from playing across from arguably the NFL’s best pass rusher in T.J. Watt. The Titans also made a questionable decision to trade a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick for 32-year-old Julio Jones. His hamstring issues from the 2020 season carried into his first campaign away from the Falcons. He managed career lows across the board in receptions (31), receiving yards (434), and receiving TDs (1), and his balky hamstrings have limited him to just 19-of-37 games (51.3%) in the last two seasons.
What to look for this off-season
The Titans captured the AFC’s top seed despite their two biggest off-season moves completely blowing up in their faces. Tennessee has very little wiggle room with the salary cap because of their moves to acquire Dupree and Julio last off-season, and they also lost their second-round pick in the Jones’ trade. The Titans will be hard-pressed to make any splashy moves this off-season, but at least they don’t have many priority free agents to retain outside of C Ben Jones and OLB Harold Landry. Getting Henry back to full strength is a top priority for the franchise this off-season. He was well on his way to becoming the first back to win three straight rushing titles since Emmitt Smith did it back in 1991-93, but he looked sluggish in his return from foot surgery in the Divisional Round.
The Titans are constructed a little differently than most teams with Henry and their running game being the centerpiece of the offense, but they need some major upgrades at receiver behind A.J. Brown. Julio can still move the needle when he’s healthy but the problem is he’s almost never fully healthy. They need to build their depth at WR for when he inevitably misses time next season. They may also need to revamp their completely underwhelming tight end room with Geoff Swaim, Anthony Firkser, and MyCole Pruitt each entering free agency. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Titans attack their offensive line with their first couple of picks after their line play tailed off a bit in 2021, and the group as a whole is starting to get a little long in the tooth.
2. Indianapolis Colts
- Record (ATS): 9-8 (10-7)
- Season Win Total: 9 (push)
- One-score Record: 2-5
- Missed Playoff Odds: +100
- Over/Under record: 8-9
- PPG: 26.5 (t9th)
- PPG Allowed: 21.5 (t9th)
- Point Differential: +86 (7th)
The Colts are on the shortlist of teams that had the most frustrating and ultimately the most disappointing seasons in 2021. Indianapolis fielded a title-contending team by many metrics, sporting the seventh-best point differential (+86) and tying the Cowboys for the league lead in turnover differential (+14). They also had the NFL’s best running back in Jonathan Taylor, who paced the league with 1811 rushing yards (+1000) and 18 rushing TDs (+600), and Indy led the league with a league-high five All-Pro players (Taylor, Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Ashton Dulin, and Luke Rhodes). Still, the Colts were on the golf course when the postseason started thanks to a 2-5 record in one-score games and three blown double-digit leads against the Titans, Ravens, and Buccaneers. The Colts owned a 9-3 record in Weeks 4-16 but a three-game losing streak to open the season and two unacceptable losses to close the year when they were favored by a combined 23 points resulted in a two-win dropoff from 2020 and it kept them out of the playoffs.
The Colts lost Philip Rivers to retirement last off-season and the team responded by reuniting Frank Reich with his former Eagles’ QB Carson Wentz. Indy traded a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 first-round pick for Wentz in hopes that he could put their title-contending roster over the top. He instead had the opposite effect, holding back their second-ranked rushing offense (149.4 yards/game) and their ninth-ranked scoring defense (21.4 PPG allowed). Wentz’s final numbers are strong overall with 27 TDs (5.2% rate) and seven INTs (1.4% rate), but they don’t align up with his actual play, especially late in the season. He threw for 148 yards and he averaged just 5.5 YPA in a Week 17 loss to the Raiders as 8.5-point home favorites. The Colts then scored just 11 points in a stunning 15-point loss to the Jaguars as 14.5-point road favorites in the season finale, which knocked them out of the postseason. Half of Jacksonville's victories in the last two seasons have come in games when they hosted Colts, and those losses cost Indianapolis a postseason berth in 2021 and the AFC South title and a home playoff game in 2020. Indianapolis has somehow managed to lose seven straight games in Jacksonville to the NFL’s worst team during that span — the Jags own a .292% winning percentage (33-80) in 2015-21.
What to look for this off-season
The Colts have cycled through four different starting quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Rivers, and Wentz) in the first four years of Frank Reich’s regime, and the Colts could make it five QBs in five years in 2022. GM Chris Ballard refused to commit to Wentz at the conclusion of a disappointing finish to last season, and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported in mid-February that Wentz will probably be released or traded by March 18. A trade can’t be ruled out with so many quarterback-needy teams but the big question is would the Colts be willing to eat $15 million to move on from Wentz if they don’t have a viable solution to take over the offense waiting in the wings. Unless they have a backup plan already lined up, the Colts could be forced to try to nurse Wentz back to his old form once again, but it’s looking more unlikely that he’ll reach his 2017 All-Pro status with every passing season.
The Colts would do well to put more threats at their receiver spots around whoever is at quarterback in 2022. Michael Pittman emerged as the only real threat in the passing game with T.Y. Hilton showing his age last season. First-round pick Kwity Paye made some progress as the season went along, but the Colts need more pass-rushing help across from him in 2022. The Colts are in pretty good standing when it comes to the salary cap, and Mark Glowinski is the only true priority free agent. They’d probably bring back veterans Eric Fisher, Xavier Rhodes, and T.Y. Hilton at the right prices, as well. The Colts could look for upgrades at left tackle and cornerback if they decided to move on from Fisher and Rhodes.
3. Houston Texans
- Record (ATS): 4-13 (8-9)
- Season Win Total: 4 (push)
- One-score Record: 0-4
- Missed Playoff Odds: -1600
- Over/Under record: 8-9
- PPG: 16.5 (30th)
- PPG Allowed: 26.6 (27th)
- Point Differential: -172 (30th)
The Texans pushed on their season win total with four victories but most observers would agree that first-time HC David Culley squeezed every last ounce out of their talent-depleted roster. The Texans released the face of the franchise J.J. Watt last off-season and Deshaun Watson didn’t play a single snap after he had a fallout with the organization and because of his ongoing civil lawsuits for sexual assault. The Texans won four games for the second straight season moving from Watson to Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills, and GM Nick Caserio rewarded Culley with his pink slip at the end of the season for “philosophical differences over the long-term direction and vision for our program.” Caserio set Culley up for failure by purging the roster and signing mostly veteran players to short-term contracts to keep their books clean for the future.
Houston stunned the Jaguars with a 16-point victory in the season opener as three-point home underdogs, but they went on to lose eight straight games. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 13 but they turned a bit of a corner after their Week 10 bye, finishing with a 3-5 record in their final eight games. The Texans selected Mills in the third round after just 14 appearances at Stanford, and he made enough progress in the second half of the season to earn a chance to be the Texans’ top quarterback heading into 2022. He averaged 7.4 YPA and 251.6 passing yards per game with nine TDs and two INTs in his final five starts. He averaged just 6.6 YPA and 209.2 passing yards per game with six TDs and seven INTs in his first six starts. Brandin Cooks was the only true fantasy factor on their roster, and he reached 65+ catches and 1000+ yards for the sixth time in his last seven seasons.
What to look for this off-season
The Texans need help across the board at every position and they’re certainly not going to get the entire job done this off-season or even next off-season, for that matter. Culley somehow milked four wins out of this roster and the Texans rewarded him with his firing at the end of the season. Caserio promoted DC Lovie Smith to be the team’s next fall guy for the next season or two until the team is ready to be competitive again in the distant future. Houston should be looking to accumulate as much talent as possible regardless of position, and one way to do that would be to trade Watson ideally before the NFL Draft. Of course, other franchises are waiting to see how his legal situation will play out and to see if the NFL will discipline him for his actions. Mills is likely to be Houston’s starting quarterback barring a dramatic change of heart from Watson if he’s even able to play in 2022. Houston handed out mostly short-term contracts last off-season and they’ll likely do the same thing in 2022 as they look to keep their books relatively clean until they’re closer to competing for the AFC South title and the playoffs.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Record (ATS): 3-14 (5-12)
- Season Win Total: 6.5 (under)
- One-score Record: 2-4
- Missed Playoff Odds: -450
- Over/Under record: 5-12
- PPG: 14.9 (32nd)
- PPG Allowed: 26.9 (28th)
- Point Differential: -204 (32nd)
The Jaguars finished with the NFL’s worst record (+1000) and they ended up with the top overall pick for the second straight year. It would be kind to say the 2021 season didn’t go as planned even after they landed the latest can’t-miss quarterback prospect in Trevor Lawrence in the draft. It didn’t take long for the Urban Meyer experiment to go up in flames after multiple scandals, and owner Shad Khan pulled the plug after just 11 months on the job — Meyer had the sixth-longest odds (+5000) to be fired first. Jacksonville had a two-win improvement from its one-win campaign in 2020, but they still underperformed more than any team in the league, falling below their preseason win total by 3.5 victories. It took the Jaguars until Week 6 to pick up their first victory of the season on a last-second field goal against the Dolphins in London. The victory snapped their 20-game losing streak that started all the way back in Week 2 in 2020, which was the NFL’s third-longest losing streak of all time.
The Jaguars missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season since they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game during the 2017 season, and they’ve missed the playoffs in 13 of the last 14 seasons. Lawrence lost an entire season of development playing under Meyer with the Jaguars finishing dead last in turnover differential (-20). He tied another first overall pick in Matthew Stafford for the most interceptions with 17 (+1100) and he averaged a league-worst 6.0 YPA with just 12 TDs and the 2022 first overall pick. Stafford averaged 8.1 YPA with 41 TDs and a Lombardi Trophy to go along with his 17 interceptions. Lawrence didn’t catch many breaks with two of his best skill players Travis Etienne (Lisfranc) and D.J. Chark (ankle) missed all or most of the season, and 2020 second-round pick Laviska Shenault has been a major disappointment in his first two professional seasons. James Robinson was one of the few offensive bright spots, scoring eight TDs and averaging 4.7 YPC in his first 13 games before he tore his Achilles early in Week 16. Achilles injuries have been career death sentences for running backs in the past, but Cam Akers’ quick return in 2021 gives J-Rob some hope heading into 2022.
What to look for this off-season
Jacksonville’s off-season should be all about getting the most out of the first overall pick after he lost an entire season of development under the old regime. New HC Doug Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and a longtime offensive coach, and he’s filling his staff with other offensive coaches to work with Lawrence including Press Taylor, Jim Bob Cooter, and Mike McCoy. The Jaguars are emphasizing building up the coaching around Lawrence, and they also need to use this off-season to improve the receivers and offensive linemen around him.
Lawrence missed Chark’s downfield ability in the final 13 games and it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep him in the fold as he enters free agency. They’ll need to find a viable replacement if they’re unable to re-sign him with Marvin Jones turning 32 years old and with Shenault being a massive disappointment. Jacksonville has a number of key players entering free agency along their offensive line in Cam Robinson, Andrew Norwell, and A.J. Cann, but the group could use a facelift as it hasn’t been particularly good the last few years. The Jaguars once again have the first overall pick and they could use it to select one of the top offensive tackles in Evan Neal or Ikem Ekwonu despite Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux being the early consensus top prospects.